Fall meeting promotes activism

If you needed information, NJREA’s annual fall meeting was the place to be in September.   Over 200 retired leaders and members packed the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton to learn more about the latest issues affecting public education employees.  Gallery Gallery

NJREA President Pat Provnick kicked off the meeting by welcoming attendees to the “largest retired union in New Jersey.”   Provnick then detailed the retired organization’s achievements over the past year.

“NJREA members have been anything but retired this past year,” Provnick declared.  “They have been actively involved in the NJEA Summer Fellowship program as well as leading the way in PAC donations—to date, we have contributed a record-setting $140,000, showing just how much we care about political action.”

NJREA officers gave their reports, including a membership update by Judy Perkins, NJREA first vice president, who spoke of the 2016-2017 NJREA membership drive efforts.  These efforts included a new brochure and posters for display in school buildings as NJREA looked to expand its lifetime membership options.

“We continue to break records for membership enrollment of retirees,” enthused Perkins.  “This year, we hope to encourage our active colleagues to join NJREA to build our ranks and keep us strong.”

In his report, Second Vice President Walt Krichling thanked the Program Planning Committee members for their hard work and reminded attendees about the procedures and venue for the annual NJREA Convention, held again this year at the Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

NJREA Government Relations Committee chairs Sue Maurer and Carol Friedrich informed attendees about the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the often criticized No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, and the opportunities available for retirees to use their educational experience to serve on district ESSA committees.

SEHBC fight explained

Kevin Kelleher, NJEA’s director of Research, reminded attendees that as a result of School Employees’ Health Benefits Program Design Committee’s (SEHBPDC) lawsuit settlement in 2014, Plan Year 2017 prescription copayments will revert to Plan Year 2014 levels as of January 1.

Kelleher then spoke at length about the rumors surrounding the state’s legal filing to push NJEA into moving its retirees into the Medicare Advantage program.   Kelleher emphasized the process by which any benefits changes need to occur, namely that they be determined by the aforementioned design committee, and the governor’s attempt to bypass the process.

“NJEA’s representatives objected because such a change in benefits can, by law, only be approved by the Plan Design Committee (PDC) of the School Employees’ Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP.) Though the commission lacks the authority to make such a change, the state wanted to compel NJEA’s representatives to attend a meeting where such a vote could be taken,” Kelleher stated.  “Based on information provided by the state, we continue to maintain that the SEHBC cannot legally take away an existing plan and force all Medicare-eligible retirees into a Medicare Advantage plan as this constitutes a plan design change, and therefore subject to review by the PDC.”

Separating fact vs. fiction

Beth Schroeder Buonsante, associate director of Government Relations, spoke on political issues and lauded the retirees for their record-breaking PAC donations.

“NJREA members continue to be generous when it comes to PAC,” Buonsante said.  “It’s obvious that you understand that we must continue to find ways to support those candidates who understand our needs and will fight for our causes.”

Buonsante then reviewed Senate President Steve Sweeney’s failure to post the resolution in order for the constitutional amendment question on pension funding appear on the November ballot.  She reviewed the myths and realities of the events leading up to the deadline vote and urged attendees to look ahead to effect change.

“In the 2017 election, we have the opportunity to find, support, and elect a governor and legislators who share our values and stand with us on our top priorities,” Buonsante declared.  “That’s why NJEA’s PAC Operating Committee passed a historic vote to begin a process of screening both gubernatorial and legislative candidates for the June 2017 primary elections.”

Opportunities for activism

After lunch, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean Spiller—who also serves as NJEA liaison to NJREA—reviewed the recent issues facing public education and the steps NJEA is taking to address them.  Spiller urged the retirees to get their former colleagues involved, reminding them that the greater their numbers, the greater their power to affect change.

“In the months to come, NJEA will call on all members—both active and retired—to get involved,” Spiller said.  “We must use our collective power to protect our profession and public education.”

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